Payo paints an animal kingdom of his imagination; an exotic menagerie of colourful creatures making their way across walls around Canada. I bumped into him one evening in Quebec City where he and a few artists were painting the words of an Isaac Asimov short story in white letters onto the pavement. Written by GSA Interviews Editor James Buxton.
Paying Dues with Payo
Someone who tried to mug me actually gave me the name Payo. I was in a small mountain village in Spain, fooling around with my cousins when a guy came out of the blue and tried to rob me. As I confronted the guy, my cousins ran away and I stayed because I wanted back what he took from me. I think it got the robber mad so he said “…Maldito Payo”. I didn’t know what it meant back then but asking my cousins later, they told me that Payo is a nickname that Spanish Gypsies give to people that aren’t Gypsies.
I painted for the first time on a wall at the age of 15 with my homeboy Menz. I grew up in the city of Quebec and I started like many graffiti writers; because of hip-hop, doing breakdance and seeing tags on walls along the way to school. My parents didn’t live in the town centre, so there weren’t many walls to hit. I started to paint on mailboxes, bins, and in parking lots. I met Olito and Nok in 2004 and everything changed for me. They brought me to train tunnels, highway underpasses, legal walls; they opened the doors of painting opportunity. They introduced me to the rest of the crew - CPT - which I became part of in the same year.
If you look at what I did a few years back, a lot of it was experimenting with shapes, fill-ins and trying to develop my characters personality. As my style evolved, my characters started to be less like funky animals but more some sort of vector of my opinions or questioning on everydayness. I try to stay as far away from painting images that clearly state: “You shouldn’t do this” or “This politician is a bastard”. I want to make the viewer’s interrogate themselves on what they see and they’ll bring their own meaning out of my work. Painting a big wall takes time, so I think if a person wants to get involved in my work, they’ll have to take the time.
Life in its many shapes inspires me. I’m fascinated by contrasts in meanings, in shapes, in ownership. The anxiety of surviving and wanting to portray stories from my surroundings is what builds this new imagery. For me, it’s the concepts and ideas depicted in the creation of my own animal kingdom. I have to say that brick and concrete walls, abandoned houses, factories and highway underpasses inspire me a lot too.
My biggest technical influence is Mother Nature. She is my main source of inspiration for drawing lines, creating fill-ins, shapes, movement and giving life to my creatures. After her, I have to state Blu and Erica Il Cane, Aryz, Other, Turf One, Os Gemeos, Smithe one and all these guys that have the chance to paint large scale walls. They give me the motivation to paint always bigger and bigger.
I did my first degree in art at Concordia University in Montreal and I’m presently doing a Master in Fine Arts somewhere in the wild.
I don’t want to bring my street work to galleries, because my characters are made in a mind state that I have nothing to sell, I don’t have to please anybody but me. Painting for a gallery or for someone will bring money in. Painting a wall, is what I can say brings me the closest to the word “freedom”.
I like to surprise people, to give no choice to the passer by to stop for a minute and think:” What the hell is this creature all about?” Contrast plays a big part in those patterns; I take small things from a lot of fascinating animals and mix them up together. The dot pattern is one that stayed and makes my work recognizable. The pattern creates a nice blend illusion from far way and as you get closer, the painting shows a lot more detail. You get two fill-ins for the price of one. I enjoy that.
The community here is really small but at least it’s very diverse. I have to say very friendly too. We have more graffiti writers than street artists, and the street artists here are either too much of one-nighters or to weak. This said we have really good letters technicians in Quebec City and they all seem to come from other countries. Writers like Sear, Bjorn, Olito, Expos, Nikel and Holk have been pulling up some wild stuff.
Unfortunately, I’ll have to keep on painting without permission I guess. But this means I’ll be able to paint whatever I want. I live in a historical and very conservative city where everything painted outdoors has to do with the first French settlement or life during the Nouvelle-France. The city will find any cheap excuse to refuse a mural project that does not go in the “pleasing the tourist with fake shit” bracket. Just this week another project was refused and this is the reason they gave: “There is a window on the wall you plan to paint your mural”.
I’ve painted in Mexico, Germany, Spain, Madagascar, France, Reunion-Island, Ottawa and in Quebec province. Painting and traveling is an enriching experience. You get to know different writers and street-artists, different styles, and make some friends along the way. In southern countries, everyone seems thrilled when I propose to paint their houses or in their neighborhood. Travelling is visiting the museum of the living. Exposing yourself to new lines, a new approach in depicting life in its many shapes.
I would really enjoy being able to live or survive out of painting large scale “carte-blanche” walls. There’s a lot of things I wish for but I have to work for them to happen. It’s not a matter of time; it’s a matter of work, persistence and presence.
The Berlin project with my crew LaJapa in 2010 was a life changing experience. It opened my eyes to the possibilities in front of me. Running from one abandoned building to another to paint characters, that’s life!!!
To finish I just want to give a shout out the familia. They know who they are. If ever you’re visiting Quebec City, and you want to paint, look for the Morgan Bridge Gallery. Hasta Siempre, LaJapa, Low-Canada style all day.